Long Live the Book Club
I confess that I’m really hit by the recent events and by the reaction of so many people. The social media are full of shouts and insults as never. A lot of writers use the online space not for explaining their opinions in a polite and reasonable way, as much as is possible, of course, but only to attack those who don’t think like them. The latter are not only adversaries but also enemies to be cancelled and annihilated. One week ago, for example, there was a sober and I’d say gentle article by a well-known columnist in an Italian newspaper about the new awareness that should permeate the ‘liberals’ because of what is happening worldwide. I don’t want to name names – by the way, I partially agreed with his opinions – because what struck me weren’t the topic or the judgement, but the tone of the readers’ comments to the article. I repeat: it was written in a professional, well-mannered and respectful way, and in any case it was more doubtful than rigidly assertive. However, the reaction was crazy, an explosion of insults, curses and personal attacks, not only against the columnist but also one reader against the other, in a really astonishing crescendo. Looking deeply at the pages of comments in other newspapers and of other columnists, I found the same reactions, as if merely calling whatever subject or opinion into question can unleash the animal spirit of the readers. In this moment, the assaults of the crisis (economical, political, ideological, social, etc.) raise up not the light of the reason (extremely necessary when facing a very difficult and unpredictable future) and the desire to react together, among and with the people of good will, but the monsters of our primitive fears and beliefs – homo homine lupus.
Note that I’m not talking about a local phenomenon, Italian, for example, but of a widespread trend that is affecting media, including social media, around the world. Look at the home of the politically correct, the United States, for example, and analyse the next electoral campaign in terms of communication. Actually, I don’t see such verbal (written and drawn) violence not even in Italy, where the electoral campaigns are always fought more in zoos than political (in the noble meaning) arenas.
There is a sampling of the worst tones, words and offences, without a pause. Forget the smart satire (ridendo castigat mores), the intelligent mockery and the funny jokes (there are a few barely funny jokes, a minimal percentage). There is a war, believe me, between two opposing armies. And any weapons are allowed, the fiercest kitsch included. I don’t remember the face of a candidate surrounded by hundreds of penises, for example, except in my elementary school (but we were immature children back then). Yet, an American ‘artist’ used this backdrop to make clear his hatred of the opposing candidate, and his disesteem, too. And when, during a dinner, I told my guests this non-positive story, two of them commented angrily: ‘But, Ciriaco, “he” deserves this!’
Yes, we all deserve this, I’m afraid, because at the end, each one of us has his own opinion, sometimes contrasting with others, and when the penises become guns (their form when drawn is quite the same) and then bombs, okay, it will be the logical consequence of our ‘art’, and let’s not mourn over that.
One of my friends, Antonello, stubbornly repeats in FB that we have to study history before expressing a judgement. He is right. The cancellation of history, or better its manipulation and reshaping according to the ideology on duty (do you possibly remember Big Brother by Orwell?) or according to the last winner (be it a man or an ideology or an empire) is one of the weapons used by the embedded or ignorant people, those who shout and offend and insult on social media.
In our Book Club we study history and comparative literature – I’m proud of that. In fact, how do you understand a book, an author (or an event), without going deeply into the context and understanding the differences? The first series of workshops was on American writers of the twentieth century. A fantastic experience. The second series, which is going to finish, deals with French writers of the nineteenth century. The awareness is now maturing, step by step, and the sessions are more and more fruitful. The third group of workshops, forecast for next March, will look at the wonderful and lyrical South American literature. In the meantime, since they are lessons on comparative literature, we are discussing Italian, Russian, English and other authors too, trying to understand what happened then, and not only in terms of literary or cultural movements.
During these days, we will discover another world opening its incredible arms to embrace our enthusiasm: the splendid, great and strongly evocative Caribbean literature, with its dozens of great authors, books and poems. In the late spring or anyhow in 2016, our book club will have sessions dedicated to Derek Walcott, Alejio Carpenter, Eduard Glissant, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Edwidge Danticat, V. S. Naipaul, Jamaica Kincaid, Kwame Dawes, etc.
So, what is this confused article about? First of all it is against (according with the bad times, yes, it is true, mala tempora currunt), so against superficiality and mediocrity. We have to return to studying (Vitttorio Alfieri, the founder of Italian tragedy, said: “Ritorniamo alle storie!”), to a good and deep education, avoiding false prophets, ugly voices and dangerous waves. Secondly, it is in favour of culture, which unites and not divides, which requires hard work but opens wide perspectives and visions, and which uplifts us. No doubt.
Thirdly, this article wants to wish our book club and the selected team of participants a long life. In the Middle Ages, culture was saved in the cloisters and monasteries. Perhaps this present is another Middle Ages, who knows?, and ours, very humbly and silently, is a privileged, secluded cloister.